Economic Indicators | Jobs and Unemployment

So Far, the Black Unemployment Rate Has Only Recovered in States Where It Was Highest Before the Great Recession

In March 2015, the national unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, showing little progress since the previous low of 5.6 percent at the end of 2014. Yet, even as the recovery moves ahead slowly, conditions vary greatly across states and across racial and ethnic groups. In March, state unemployment rates ranged from a high of 7.7 percent in the District of Columbia to a low of 2.6 percent in Nebraska, replacing North Dakota as the state with the lowest unemployment rate. Nationally, African Americans had the highest unemployment rate, at 10.1 percent, followed by Latinos (6.8 percent), whites (4.7 percent), and Asians (3.2 percent).

State unemployment rates, by race and ethnicity

Following is an overview of racial unemployment rates and racial unemployment rate gaps by state for the first quarter of 2015. We provide this analysis on a quarterly basis in order to generate a sample size large enough to create reliable estimates of unemployment rates by race at the state level. We only report estimates for states where the sample size of these subgroups is large enough to create an accurate estimate.

Trends among whites

In the first quarter of 2015, the white unemployment rate was lowest in Nebraska (2.0 percent) and highest in Tennessee (6.3 percent), as shown in the interactive map, which presents state unemployment rates by race and ethnicity. Nebraska replaces North Dakota, which had the lowest white unemployment rate last quarter, and Tennessee surpassed Nevada as the state with the highest white unemployment rate. As shown in Table 1, which displays changes in state unemployment rates by race and ethnicity from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the first quarter of 2015, Louisiana is the state where the white unemployment rate remains most elevated above its pre-recession level—3.1 percentage points higher than in the fourth quarter of 2007. Last quarter, the white unemployment rate was most elevated above the pre-recession rate in Nevada. On the other hand, the white unemployment rate is at or below its pre-recession level in 11 states: Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin, and Vermont. The white unemployment rate is within 1 percentage point of its pre-recession level in another 27 states.

Interactive Map

State unemployment rates, by race/ethnicity and overall, 2015Q1

State All White Black Hispanic Asian
California 6.7% 5.5% 12.1% 7.9% 4.8%
Alabama 5.8% 4.4% 9.9% NA NA
Alaska 6.4% 4.8% NA NA NA
Arizona 6.4% 4.9% NA 8.0% NA
Arkansas 5.6% 4.9% 9.6% NA NA
Colorado 4.2% 3.2% NA 6.8% NA
Connecticut 6.4% 4.8% 12.6% 12.6% NA
Delaware 4.8% 3.7% 8.4% NA NA
District of Columbia 7.7% 2.9% 15.8% 4.6% NA
Florida 5.7% 4.3% 10.0% 6.1% NA
Georgia 6.3% 4.4% 11.1% 3.5% NA
Hawaii 4.1% 4.7% NA NA 3.5%
Idaho 3.9% 3.4% NA 6.4% NA
Illinois 6.0% 4.4% 12.5% 8.0% 4.9%
Indiana 5.9% 5.1% NA NA NA
Iowa 4.1% 3.7% NA NA NA
Kansas 4.2% 4.0% NA 4.3% NA
Kentucky 5.3% 4.5% NA NA NA
Louisiana 6.8% 5.2% 10.0% NA NA
Maine 5.0% 4.6% NA NA NA
Maryland 5.4% 3.6% 8.3% 7.1% 3.5%
Massachusetts 4.9% 4.0% NA 8.2% 5.3%
Michigan 5.9% 4.9% 12.3% NA NA
Minnesota 3.7% 2.7% NA NA NA
Mississippi 7.0% 5.5% 10.2% NA NA
Missouri 5.5% 4.9% 10.7% NA NA
Montana 4.3% 3.8% NA NA NA
Nebraska 2.7% 2.0% NA NA NA
Nevada 7.1% 6.0% NA 6.8% 4.4%
New Hampshire 3.9% 3.7% NA NA NA
New Jersey 6.4% 5.0% 12.2% 7.7% 3.8%
New Mexico 6.0% 5.0% NA 5.4% NA
New York 5.8% 4.2% 10.2% 7.7% 5.2%
North Carolina 5.3% 4.4% 8.9% 5.5% NA
North Dakota 2.9% 2.6% NA NA NA
Ohio 5.1% 4.2% 11.4% NA NA
Oklahoma 3.9% 3.0% NA 6.0% NA
Oregon 5.8% 6.0% NA 6.2% NA
Pennsylvania 5.2% 4.2% 12.5% 6.7% NA
Rhode Island 6.4% 5.8% NA 8.7% NA
South Carolina 6.6% 4.6% 11.8% NA NA
South Dakota 3.4% 2.4% NA NA NA
Tennessee 6.5% 6.3% 8.2% NA NA
Texas 4.3% 3.1% 8.7% 4.5% 2.5%
Utah 3.4% 3.2% NA 4.8% NA
Vermont 3.9% 4.0% NA NA NA
Virginia 4.7% 3.8% 7.4% 7.3% 2.9%
Washington 6.2% 4.9% NA 8.3% 5.7%
West Virginia 6.2% 6.0% NA NA NA
Wisconsin 4.8% 3.7% NA NA NA
Wyoming 4.0% 3.7% NA NA NA
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Note: The map only reports unemployment rates for state subgroups with sample sizes large enough to create accurate estimates.

Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) data and Current Population Survey (CPS) data

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Trends among African Americans

The African American unemployment rate was lowest in Virginia (7.4 percent) and highest in the District of Columbia (15.8 percent), surpassing Michigan, which had the highest black unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2014. By way of comparison, although 7.4 percent is the lowest black unemployment rate in the country, it is still over 1 percentage point above the highest white unemployment rate (Tennessee’s). Virginia was one of only eight states where the African American unemployment rate was below 10 percent in the first quarter of 2015. As shown in Table 2, which displays the black–white and Hispanic–white unemployment rate ratios in the first quarter of 2015, Tennessee’s black–white unemployment rate gap was the smallest in the country. In that state, the black unemployment rate was 1.3 times the white rate as a result of the increase in Tennessee’s white unemployment rate. The largest gap was in the District of Columbia, where the black unemployment rate was 5.4 times the white rate.

With regard to recovery, the African American unemployment rate is at or below its pre-recession level in six states: Connecticut, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee. But this numerical recovery must be put in proper context because each of these states also had black unemployment rates that were among the highest in the nation before the recession. The unemployment rate remains most elevated above its pre-recession level in the District of Columbia (6.1 percentage points higher). Before the recession, the African American unemployment rate in the District of Columbia was 9.7 percent.

Trends among Hispanics

The Hispanic unemployment rate was highest in Connecticut (12.6 percent) and lowest in Georgia (3.5 percent). These states replace Rhode Island and the District of Columbia as the places with the highest and lowest Hispanic unemployment rates, respectively.

The Hispanic unemployment rate is at or below its pre-recession level in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas. In Texas, the Hispanic unemployment rate was also lower than the national average in the fourth quarter of 2007, and remains so currently. The Hispanic unemployment rate is lower than the white rate in Georgia, while the Hispanic–white unemployment rate gap is largest in Connecticut, where the Hispanic unemployment rate is 2.6 times the white rate.

Trends among Asians

The Asian unemployment rate was lowest in Texas (2.5 percent) and highest in the state of Washington (5.7 percent). The Asian unemployment rate remains most elevated above pre-recession levels in Maryland (2.5 percentage points). Texas was the only state where the first-quarter estimate of the Asian unemployment rate was below the pre-recession level (0.5 percentage points lower).

Table 1

Change in state unemployment rates by race and ethnicity, 2007Q4–2015Q1 (percentage points)

State White Black Hispanic Asian
USA 0.4 1.7 0.8 0.7
Alabama 1.3 4.7 NA NA
Alaska 0.3 NA NA NA
Arizona 1.7 NA 2.4 NA
Arkansas 0.2 0.8 NA NA
California 0.8 2.3 1.0 0.1
Colorado -0.3 NA 1.6 NA
Connecticut 1.3 0.0 4.2 NA
Delaware 0.7 3.3 NA NA
District of Columbia 1.3 6.1 NA NA
Florida 0.5 3.9 0.6 NA
Georgia 1.1 3.0 -3.6 NA
Hawaii 0.9 NA NA 1.1
Idaho 0.3 NA NA NA
Illinois 0.1 0.3 2.3 NA
Indiana 0.9 NA NA 1.5
Iowa 0.2 NA NA NA
Kansas 0.6 NA NA NA
Kentucky -0.6 NA NA NA
Louisiana 3.1 2.0 NA NA
Maine -0.1 NA NA NA
Maryland 0.9 2.9 5.1 2.5
Massachusetts -0.5 NA NA NA
Michigan -1.2 -3.0 NA NA
Minnesota -1.5 NA NA NA
Mississippi 1.7 -0.6 NA NA
Missouri 0.4 -0.9 NA NA
Montana 0.5 NA NA NA
Nebraska -0.6 NA NA NA
Nevada 1.7 NA 0.1 NA
New Hampshire 0.3 NA NA NA
New Jersey 1.1 3.7 2.6 NA
New Mexico 2.1 NA 1.2 1.5
New York 0.6 2.4 0.9 NA
North Carolina 0.4 0.8 -0.9 1.3
North Dakota 0.5 NA NA 1.9
Ohio -0.4 -2.3 NA NA
Oklahoma 0.1 NA NA NA
Oregon 0.7 NA NA NA
Pennsylvania 0.2 5.5 NA NA
Rhode Island 0.6 NA 1.3 NA
South Carolina 1.0 0.9 NA NA
South Dakota 0.4 NA NA NA
Tennessee 1.8 -1.1 NA NA
Texas -0.4 0.6 -0.1 -0.5
Utah 0.9 NA 1.1 NA
Vermont -0.1 NA NA NA
Virginia 0.9 2.2 3.8 NA
Washington 0.3 NA 2.7 2.1
West Virginia 1.9 NA NA NA
Wisconsin -0.3 NA NA NA
Wyoming 1.4 NA NA NA

Note: The table only reports data for state subgroups with sample sizes large enough to create accurate estimates.

Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) data and Current Population Survey (CPS) data

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Table 2

Black–white and Hispanic–white state unemployment rate ratios, 2015Q1

State Black–white ratio Hispanic–white ratio
USA 2.4 1.5
Alabama 2.3 NA
Alaska NA NA
Arizona NA 1.6
Arkansas 2.0 NA
California 2.2 1.4
Colorado NA 2.2
Connecticut 2.6 2.6
Delaware 2.3 NA
District of Columbia 5.4 1.6
Florida 2.3 1.4
Georgia 2.5 0.8
Hawaii NA NA
Idaho NA 1.9
Illinois 2.8 1.8
Indiana NA NA
Iowa NA NA
Kansas NA 1.1
Kentucky NA NA
Louisiana 1.9 NA
Maine NA NA
Maryland 2.3 2.0
Massachusetts NA 2.1
Michigan 2.5 NA
Minnesota NA NA
Mississippi 1.8 NA
Missouri 2.2 NA
Montana NA NA
Nebraska NA NA
Nevada NA 1.1
New Hampshire NA NA
New Jersey 2.4 1.5
New Mexico NA 1.1
New York 2.4 1.8
North Carolina 2.0 1.2
North Dakota NA NA
Ohio 2.7 NA
Oklahoma NA 2.0
Oregon NA 1.0
Pennsylvania 2.9 1.6
Rhode Island NA 1.5
South Carolina 2.6 NA
South Dakota NA NA
Tennessee 1.3 NA
Texas 2.8 1.5
Utah NA 1.5
Vermont NA NA
Virginia 1.9 1.9
Washington NA 1.7
West Virginia NA NA
Wisconsin NA NA
Wyoming NA NA

Note: The table only reports data for state subgroups with sample sizes large enough to create accurate estimates.

Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) data and Current Population Survey (CPS) data

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Methodology

The unemployment rate estimates in this issue brief are based on the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) and the Current Population Survey (CPS) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall state unemployment rate is taken directly from the LAUS. CPS six-month ratios are applied to LAUS data to calculate the rates by race and ethnicity. For each state subgroup, we calculate the unemployment rate using the past six months of CPS data. We then find the ratio of this subgroup rate to the state unemployment rate using the same period of CPS data. This gives us an estimate of how the subgroup compares to the state overall.

While this methodology allows us to calculate unemployment-rate estimates at the state level by race by quarter, it is less precise at the national level than simply using the CPS. Thus, the national-level estimates may differ from direct CPS estimates.

In many states, the sample size of these subgroups is not large enough to create an accurate estimate of their unemployment rate. We only report data for groups which had, on average, a sample size of at least 700 in the labor force for each six-month period.


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